UPPER DARBY >> When you look at Downingtown West’s roster and its quintet of contributors standing 6-foot-4 or taller, the natural inclination is to see a mismatch with Upper Darby. When Royals big man Kymir Roper, generously listed at 6-5 but with outsized tenacity, perused the roster, he saw opportunity.
“I love the challenge,” Roper said, “no matter what anybody says.”
Roper played only a peripheral role in the ultimate resolution to Tuesday’s District 1 Class 6A contest, setting the screen that was supposed to get Mamadou Toure to the basket. Instead, Toure banked home a 20-foot jumper with one second left in a 46-44 Upper Darby win. But at the other end, when Will Howard’s home run pass fell shy of its target, Roper’s hands were firmly around the ball as time expired, a fitting symbol for how profoundly he set the tone of cutting the Whippets’ front line down to size.
Roper scored seven points (all in the second half), grabbed eight boards and blocked two shots in a rugged affair. He contributed to 13 Downingtown West turnovers and gave no quarter in the lane, ensuring that every foray into the paint by the Whippets’ rotating corps of bigs met with resistance. Roper’s ability to clamp down on the longer opposition fed directly into ninth seed Upper Darby’s rise to its first state tournament since 2013 — from the microscale of a 13-2 deficit to start the game to the rebound from last year’s six-win campaign — one bench-enlivening denial at a time.
“That gives us a major boost,” Toure said. “That’s what we’re talking about in practice, the big guys, that’s where their points come from. They stepped up tonight, Jalun (Trent) and Kymir especially. It’s huge. And the emotion was there tonight,” coach Bob Miller said. “… We were physical tonight and we really got after it.”
Roper put Upper Darby up, 44-42, on a beauty of a pick-and-roll with Toure with 1:44 left. Naseem Roberson, who struggled to shake off a handful of hard fouls incurred, tied the score on the next trip with two free throws.
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